August 2017

Iran to develop Rural Tourism Potentials of thousands of villages

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Iranian authorities will review the tourism potentials of 1,000 villages in the current Iranian year (started March 21) and draw up plans for those with the biggest potential.

Seyyed Abolfazl Razavi, vice president for rural development and deprived areas, said the government has identified more than 5,000 villages whose tourism industry could be developed.

“Some 1,000 villages that boast a rich history or unique arts and crafts will be studied this year,” he was quoted as saying by IRIB News.

Out of the 64,000 villages in the country, 33,000 have been deserted and 25,000 villages are each inhabited by less than 20 households. Officials hope to stop and possibly reverse rural-urban migration by developing rural tourism and creating jobs.

To that end, Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization announced in May that it had developed a plan that would soon be implemented in 76 villages in the provinces of Kermanshah, Ilam, Sistan-Baluchestan, and Kurdestan.

Under the scheme, rural historical houses will be turned either into tourist and cultural attractions with craft workshops or accommodations for both Iranian and foreign tourists. The plan will benefit the original residents of the homes, besides creating work for the local people.

According to published data, the rural population in 1956 comprised 70% of the population of 19 million. In 2015 it had declined to 28% for a population of over 79 million.

Railway connecting Northern Europe with Southeast Asia will impact Iran tourism

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Elaborating on the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), on which Iranian and Azerbaijani sides are working hard to fully launch, a Norway-based commentator suggested that the corridor could help in boosting the Islamic Republic’s tourism sector.

“The corridor would play a key role in improving Iran’s tourism industry as it is capable of facilitating tourists’ inflow to the country,” Mehrdad Seyed Asgari, a Norway-based Iranian financial analyst, told Trend.

The INSTC is meant to connect Northern Europe with Southeast Asia. It will serve as a link connecting the railways of Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia.

Mehrdad Seyed Asgari also touched upon the new opportunities for cooperation between Iran and Azerbaijan. He said that, Azerbaijani entrepreneurs already in possession of international standards and norms know-how could assist Iran in the improvement of the quality of its tourism sector.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), Iran is the most inexpensive place to travel and invest. Nonetheless, the country ranked 93rd among 136 countries across 14 categories in the latest Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report by the WEF.

In a bid to improve the country’s tourism infrastructure, Iran has launched several projects to build new hotels, but there is a need for bringing the quality of service to the international standards, the commentator said.

Over the current fiscal year (starting March 20) Iran has launched about 950 projects, worth $9 billion, to develop its tourism infrastructure, including 500 hotels and serviced apartments, Asgari added.

Estimating the shortage of knowledge and experience for improvement of the tourism services in Iran, he pointed out Azerbaijan’s breakthrough in its tourism sector over the past years and suggested that Azerbaijani entrepreneurs would be capable of transferring their know-how to the Islamic Republic.

Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report indicated that Azerbaijan, at 71st position, was one of the most improved economies, rising 13 places in the global rankings.

The expert further forecasted a bright future for the whole tourism industry in the world, as the sharp slump in oil prices, which are unlikely to surge considerably in the near future, have left a positive impact on tourism sector.

According to the report, the travel and tourism industry had contributed $7.6 trillion to the global economy (10.2 percent of global GDP) and generated 292 million jobs (1 in 10 jobs on the planet) in 2016.

Pottery inscription unearthed in Iran

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Public Affairs Department at Cultural Heritage and Tourism Research Institute reported a major discovery in southeastern Iran.

The milestone discovery of the third season of excavations in the historic hill of Takhcharabad in Birjand County of Iran’s southeastern Province of South Khorasan is a broken piece of pottery with a Pahlavi inscription on it.

“This piece of pottery was inscribed by a sharped-edge instrument before the pottery dried,” said Mohsen Dana, the authority in charge of the third season of archeological explorations in the historic hill of Takhcharabad.

Mr. Dana recounted that architectural ruins of high value like walls, ovens, spaces, and floors have been found in this season of explorations, as well as precious artefacts like pottery pieces, sharpening stones, and tools.

 “At the end of this season, the exterior plan of the area has been fully searched and the highest tips of the hill has been unearthed by the depth of the 1.5 meters,” highlighted the archeologist.

He says that this part of the search has revealed that the building upon the hill is an irregular circle with six filed towers around it made of layered clay bricks.

According to the researchers, the building had been built upon Achaemenid ruins consciously filed with stone and sand by constructors at late phase of the Iron Age in the era of the Parthian Empire.

More western tourists and less Arab are visiting Iran

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Official statistics show that the number of tourists from Iraq and the Persian Gulf littoral states visiting Iran has decreased in 2016 and 2017, while that of European and American visitors to the country has witnessed a remarkable growth since August 2015.

Although, compared to last year’s figure, the overall number of foreign tourists to Iran has reduced 6.9 percent in the current Iranian year (started mid-March 2017), statistics indicate that the decrease pertains to the number of visitors from the Persian Gulf littoral states, and not that of the European and American ones.

According to a Farsi report by ISNA, the director-general of Iran’s Office for Planning and Supporting Expansion of Tourism Industry, Abdolreza Mohajeri-Nejad, said over 1.14 million foreign tourists travelled to Iran during March 21-June 21, 2017.

This comes as, in the same period last year, the figure stood at more than 1.18 million, up by 6.9 percent, he added.

Mohajeri-Nejad said the decline in the number of tourists from the Persian Gulf littoral states and Iraq is the main reason for the drop in the average number of foreign visitors to the country during the three-month period.

“The number of visitors from these states to Iran was subject to a 9-percent decrease, year-on-year, in the said timespan, under the impact of the country’s weakened ties with the Persian Gulf littoral states – following the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Embassy and diplomatic mission in Tehran and Mashhad (eastern Iran) in early 2016 – insecurities in the regional states and unfavorable economic condition in Iraq and Syria.”

The downward trend has continued in the past two years, he added.

Mohajeri-Nejad said from March 2016 to March 2017, the average total number of foreign tourists to Iran (over 4.91 million) was also 5.2 percent less than that of the same 12-month period ending mid-March 2016.

However, he said, despite the decrease in the number of tourists from regional countries to Iran during the 15-month period to June 21, 2017, that of European and American visitors to the country has grown 56.6 percent in the same duration.

“The increase has occurred as a result of the going into effect of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) [signed in July 2015 between Tehran and the P5+1].”

Mohajeri-Nejad added from August 2015 to March 2017, a total of 478,826 tourists from western states, particularly Europe, travelled to Iran. This is while, prior to the signing of the JCPOA, from December 2013 to June 2015, the figure stood at 35,852, he said.

He expressed the hope that in case the upward trend in the number of European and American tourists to Iran would continue, the country will definitely manage to achieve the targets stipulated in Iran’s Vision 2025.

As per the Vision 2025, Iran’s annual income from tourism sector is required to reach $25 billion (20 billion tourists per year) in eight years from now. To achieve the target, the country needs to be a destination for 5.1 percent of the total global number of tourists per year.

American tourists to Iran not slowed down, No restrictions on issuing Iran visa to US citizens

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The tourist flow from the U.S. to Iran has not been slowed down as its year-on-year rate shows no decrease in the stream, says the chief executive of the Iranian Tour Operators Association.

“U.S. tourist arrivals to Iran have not come to a halt and the number of inbound tourists from the U.S. during the current Iranian year (which started March 21, 2017) shows no reduction in comparison to that of the same period last year,” ISNA quoted Ebrahim Pourfaraj as saying on Friday.

He ruled out recent allegations by the U.S. State Department that claims Iran denies to grant visas to American nationals, saying, “The Iranian Foreign Ministry has maintained its previous procedure towards [applicant] American citizens despite all the threats and counteractions that the U.S. government has taken.”

Last Tuesday, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning, advising American and dual-national citizens about traveling to Iran of potential risks for being arrested or detained.

Pourfaraj asserted there is no restrictions for American travelers to visit the country. “Though the procedure of issuing visas is becoming more time-consuming, it does not mean that there is more stringency or a negative response towards American citizens.”

“The Foreign Ministry has responded to all [visa] requests after receiving documents and completing formal process. Besides, so far no negative reports have been received from any tourism agencies in that regard,” he explained.

Following a landmark nuclear deal clinched between Iran and world powers in 2015, which resulted in the lifting of some economic sanctions, Iran now finds itself back on travel brochures and is scrambling to up its standards to cater to the demands of potential foreign travelers. Many tour operators say the demand has been so acute that they are racing to add new departures and selling them in record time.

Iran hosts some of the world’s oldest cultural monuments, including 22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and its varied terrain ranges from desert locales to ski resorts.

Iran attracts more Western tourists

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Iran attracts more Western tourists

 wonderfully amazing trip

At least 1,148 million tourists visited Iran during the first three months of the current financial year (20 March-21 June), Abdolreza Mohajerinejad, an official of the Cultural Heritage, Crafts and Tourism Organization Of Iran.

The figure shows a decrease of 9.6 per cent compared to the same period of the previous year, said Mohajerinejad, director of the Cultural Heritage, Crafts and Organization Tourism Development and Planning Bureau Of tourism, the ISNA news agency reported on 23 August.

Autumn is mainly related to the decline in the number of tourists from the northern states and the Persian Gulf, he said.

Nevertheless, the number of tourists from the EU and the US who visit #Iran is increasing added Mohajerinejad.

Without disclosing the exact number of Western tourists who visited Iran during the period, Mohajerin stated that during the 15-month period from March 2016 to June 2017, their number increased by 56.6% the previous year.

More than 4,911 million tourists visited Iran during the last fiscal year (ended March 20, 2017), indicating a decline of 2.5 percent year-on-year, he said.

According to Mohajerinejad, the number of tourists from the northern states and Iraq decreased by 9.9 percent in one year.

Meanwhile, Iranian officials earlier announced that the number of tourist flows over the past year had increased by 33% to reach six million visitors.

Iran’s annual tourism income, over the past year, increased by 11 percent to 8.3 billion.

Iran Hotel Prices Don’t Include Amenities Like GYM, SPA or Swimming pool, because government sets room rates

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The price of a room in hotels around the world, at least in four- and five-star properties, is based on the type of room, breakfast and free (or significantly discounted) use of amenities.

Amenities include the gym, spa, swimming pool and even WiFi connection, as well as any other facilities the hotel management sees fit to offer along with the room.

Surprisingly, this is not the case in Iran, despite the fact that the country is lagging in its attempt to meet its ambitious target of 20 million tourists a year by 2025.

Hoteliers say they are forced to charge extra for amenities that would normally be offered free of charge elsewhere, blaming Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization’s regulations.

Room rates in Iran are set by ICHHTO and they only include the price of the room and breakfast, leaving hotel owners to set their own fees for other services.

“This problem is rooted in the fact that room rates in Iran aren’t liberalized,” Jamshid Hamzehzadeh, president of Iran Hoteliers Association, was quoted as saying by ISNA.

Hamzehzadeh has been a vocal critic of the government’s disinclination to deregulate hotel fees and he says this has forced hoteliers’ hands.

“In no other country do you see the government setting hotel prices,” he added.

The organization argues that hotels may abuse a liberalized market, because their service quality is too inferior to merit the rates that they would likely impose.

Vali Teymouri, director of the Monitoring of Tourism Services Office at ICHHTO, said the problem can be overcome if hoteliers are honest with their guests.

“Hotels sign contracts with travel agencies and guests, in which they are supposed to clearly state the prices they charge for services not included in the room rate,” he was quoted by travel news website Donyaye Safar as saying.

The official said problems arise when transparency takes a backseat.

“Hotel guests will not be surprised if they know exactly how much everything costs before hand,” Teymouri said.

Nevertheless, Hamzehzadeh said the association is “seriously pursuing” deregulation of hotel rates.

“We haven’t been able to take this up with the organization because there’s no stability in upper management,” he said, referring to frequent staff changes at the highest levels of ICHHTO.

“So we’ve taken our request to the parliament and hope to get the desired result.”

Republic of Dagestan to invest $100 million in Iran health tourism

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Republic of Dagestan’s Elbin Bank aims to invest $100 million in Iran by constructing a health tourism township near the city of Ardebil in northwest of the country, IRNA reported on Friday.

Elbin Bank Managing Director Abdullah Amrov signed a preliminary agreement in Moscow on Thursday with Ali Lotfi, the representative of Ardebil Medical Sciences Housing Cooperative as the operator of the project.

Under the agreement, a center named Taisiz Sabalan will be constructed in an area between Ardebil and the famous Sareyn spa hub, which is best known for its healing hot springs.

“We are willing to invest in Iran so that our customers will benefit from services of Taisiz Sabalan health center,” Amrov was quoted as saying by IRNA.

“A delegation will be dispatched to Iran in the near future to lay the grounds for development of the project,” he added.

Under another pact signed on the same day, Elbin Bank has been committed to promote handicrafts and other products made by units affiliated with the Welfare Organization of Iran through holding sales exhibitions at the bank.

Ardebil and its surrounding areas are also known for high-quality honey as well as a wide variety of handicrafts including carpets and rugs.


Iran eyes 1 million foreign medical tourism, $7 billion revenues yearly

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The Iranian minister of cooperatives, labor and social welfare has said that the country has a potential to earn $7 billion in revenues through attracting one million health tourists on a yearly basis.

Relative wallet-friendly services can be considered as the main advantage of medical tourism in Iran, Ali Rabiei said in an address to an international conference held in Hama Hotel in Tehran on Tuesday evening, to which business representatives from over 30 courtiers attended.

Rabiei also pointed to lack of integrated management and proper advertisement as factors that have hampered medical and health tourism sectors in the country despite high quality of services and low prices, IRIB reported.

Health-tourism companies from more than 30 countries including the Netherlands, Germany, France, China, Canada, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Romania and Uzbekistan are supposed to collaborate with Iran in this regard. 

Earlier this month, Iran signed agreements with 13 neighboring countries with the aim of developing and reorganizing its medical tourism sector. Patients from Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Persian Gulf littoral states constitute the largest number of travelers who visit Iran annually for medical services.

Moreover, the state-run Tourism Holding Company, affiliated with the Social Security Organization, is to unveil a comprehensive plan, which will be implemented with the participation of 22 hospitals and over 200 physicians, specialists, and surgeons.

The Ministry of Health registered some 105,000 inbound patients over the past Iranian calendar year (March 2016-March 2017), ISNA quoted a tourism official as saying back in July.

Iran has launched extensive plans to bolster its tourism sector. Under its 2025 Tourism Vision Plan, the country is expecting to increase the number of tourism arrivals from 4.8 million in 2014 to 20 million in 2025.

The Memory of Saint Thaddeus and His Faithful Followers in Iran

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The Memory of Saint Thaddeus and His Faithful Followers

Iran’s Qara Kelisa will honor the memory of Saint Thaddeus and his faithful followers during a ceremony in the northern province of West Azerbaijan.
The church is located at the end of a road which has been constructed merely for this church and a small nearby village. Qara Kelissa was registered as the ninth historical-cultural heritage of Iran at the 32nd International Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Quebec, Canada.

Scores of Armenians, Assyrians, and Catholics from Iran and other countries will attend the annual event as part of their pilgrimage on the Day of St. Thaddeus.
The ceremony is known as one of the largest religious ceremonies held by Armenians.
Qara Kelisa, also known as the St. Thaddeus Church, is one of the oldest and most notable surviving Christian monuments of Iran that carries great significance for the country’s Armenian Orthodox community.

The church is composed of two parts: a black structure, the original building of the church from which it takes its name and a white structure, the main church, which was added to the original building’s western wing in 1810 CE.
An ancient chapel two kilometers northwest of the church is said to have been the place where the first Christian woman, Sandokh, was martyred. The chapel is believed to be as old as Qara Kelisa. The structure was inscribed along with two other monastic ensembles of the Armenian Christian faith namely St. Stepanos and the Chapel of Dzordzor.

Saint Thaddeus Monastery
The Saint Thaddeus Monastery is an ancient Armenian monastery located in the mountainous area of Iran’s West Azarbaijan Province, about 20 kilometers from the town of Maku. The monastery is visible from a distance because of the massiveness of the church, strongly characterized by the polygonal drums and conical roofs of its two domes. There are several chapels nearby: three on the hills east of the stream, one approximately 3km south of the monastery on the road to Bastam, and another that serves as the church for the village of Ghara-Kilise.
One of the 12 Apostles, St. Thaddeus, also known as Saint Jude, (not to be confused with Judas Iscariot), was martyred while spreading the Gospel. He is revered as an apostle of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Legend has it that a church dedicated to him was first built on the present site in AD 68.
Not much appears to remain of the original church, which was extensively rebuilt in 1329 after an earthquake damaged the structure in 1319. Nevertheless, some of the parts surrounding the altar apse date from the 10th century.
Most of the present structure dates from the early 19th century when Qajar prince Abbas Mirza helped in renovations and repairs. The 19th-century additions are from carved sandstone. The earliest parts are of black and white stone, hence its Turkish name Kara Kilise, the Black Church. A fortified wall surrounds the church and its now-abandoned monastery buildings.

According to Armenian Church tradition, the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew traveled through Armenia in AD 45 to preach the word of God; many people were converted and numerous secret Christian communities were established there.
The ancient Christian historian Moses of Khorene tell the following story, considered a legend by most modern historiography.
Thaddeus converted King Abgar V of Edessa. After his death, the Armenian kingdom was split into two parts. His son Ananun crowned himself in Edessa, while his nephew Sanatruk ruled in Armenia. About AD 66, Ananun gave the order to kill St. Thaddeus in Edessa. The king’s daughter Sandokht, who had converted to Christianity, was martyred with Thaddeus. Her tomb is said to be located near the Ghara Kelisa.

History and Architecture
In Turkish, Qara means black and the church was called so because a part of it was black. Apparently, the main building of the church was built entirely of black stones but after reconstruction part of the stones was replaced by white ones. This was most probably done intentionally so that future generations would be informed of the original shape and façade of the church.
The church was destroyed and reconstructed at different eras for different reasons. A great part of the church was destroyed in the year 1230 (616 Lunar Hejira) during the attack of Genghis Khan.
When Hulagu Khan was residing in Azarbaijan, Khaje Nassireddin Toosi embarked on its reconstruction.
The main church, built in 1811-1820 is a massive structure, built of light sandstone and adorned with blind arches and decorative and geometric shapes.
Its twelve-sided tambour has been built in alternating light- and dark-colored stones and has an equal number of windows.
The church has two large courtyards, the first of which seems to have been used for agricultural purposes, while the second encircles the white structure, the portico, and a number of rooms.
The first courtyard includes oil-extracting rooms, a miniature windmill, an oven, and a fountain. It is decorated with ornamental motifs and two intricately designed stone crucifixes.
A small door opens to the second courtyard where the refectory and the kitchen along with rooms for resident monks and abbots are located.

The portico, which has been left unfinished, dates back to the mid 19th century.
The building’s exterior is adorned with five rows of alternating dark and light stones as well as numerous round and blind arches, decorated with rosettes, coats-of-arms, flowers and animal figures.
Statues of angels adorn the front facade of the church and its northern and southern facades are decorated with dark-colored stone crucifixes.
Sculptured bas-reliefs bearing passages from the Old and New Testaments, mythical animals, and effigies of saints have added to the beauty of the monument.
Armenians hold that Qara Kelisa is the world’s first church and was constructed in 68 CE by one of the apostles of Jesus, Saint Thaddeus, who traveled to Armenia, then part of the Persian Empire, to preach the teachings of Christ.
The church was destroyed as a result of an earthquake in 1319 and as narrated by Andranik Hovian there is a document showing it was rehabilitated by Saint Zachary in 1329.